Dexter’s Karen McKeachie continues to build bridges for progress

Story by Kim Stetson

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

Dexter’s Karen McKeachie was struck and killed by a vehicle, while riding her bike on Aug. 29, 2016. Karen, who was a young 63, lived more ‘life in her years’ than most could wish or imagine.

A woman of many interests and talents, Karen was a successful professional, an elite athlete, a trailblazer, a talented musician, and an avid community volunteer. While a list of her accomplishments would be long and diverse, it is the indelible mark she left in athletics for which she may be most remembered.

A competitive runner, since the age of 15, Karen lettered in volleyball and basketball at the University of Michigan in 1973-1974, and lettered in track and cross-country at Michigan State University in 1975-1976. She continued as a nationally recognized runner until she experienced her first triathlon in Traverse City, in 1982. At this event she took the place of her husband, Lew Kidder, who had no interest in swimming in a cold lake!

Karen finished third among the women and never looked back. She went on to win 15 national triathlon championships, seven world championships, and competed in numerous Iron Man competitions.

Following Karen’s tragic accident, Lew shared with the Detroit Free Press, “She wasn’t the most fluid athlete, but she had an amazing engine and a lot of willpower. She worked so hard at it that she became very, very good.”

In addition to being an elite athlete and role model, Karen was a coach, mentor, friend, and supporter to hundreds of female athletes. “Within Michigan’s triathlon community,” Daniel Bethencourt of the Detroit Free Press wrote, “Karen McKeachie was an icon.”

Immediately following her death, Karen’s family chose to honor her legacy through a $1,100,000 gift to the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (HWPI), a local nonprofit group committed to developing a Border-to-Border Regional Trail System (B2B) of safe and aesthetic recreational pathways, throughout Washtenaw County.

In May, Karen’s family and HWPI announced the Karen’s Trail campaign, a public effort to raise a minimum of $1,000,000 for trail construction, through the public support of “a series of community events and fundraising efforts.”

A section of the Border-to-Border Trail will include nine bridges across the Huron River, stretching from the Dexter-Huron Metropark to Zeeb Road. “Each bridge,” Lew explained, “will honor something of national significance that happened locally.”

One bridge will honor Title IX, an educational amendment for which Karen played an enormous role. In high school, her school had no women on its track team. The coach of the team told her she could join if all of the male athletes on the team agreed. In a practice race Karen beat all but two of its members. The men she defeated voted against her joining the team.

While competing at the University of Michigan, Karen experienced another obstacle. The athletic director told her she couldn’t represent the university in a cross-country national event. Not to be deterred, Karen found a maize jersey and had her mother sew a blue block “M” on it. She finished ninth in the event, and today her jersey proudly hangs in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in Lansing.

A second bridge is planned to honor the early years of NASA’s program. Many of its early missions included astronauts who attended the University of Michigan. David Scott, Alfred Worden, and James Irwin, the astronauts of Apollo 15, all attended U of M.

To date, Karen’s Trail has received contributions from over 1,400 people. Her family is enthusiastic and optimistic that their fundraising goal will be met, but Lew emphasized, “It’s going to take a village to build this trail.”

To honor the amazing life of Karen McKeachie, Liberty Athletic Club plans to be a part of this “village.” On Sept. 29 and 30, Liberty members are invited to participate in a number of special events in support of the Karen’s Trail campaign.

Karen’s Trail Classes

Pathway to Gratitude Adults Only
Friday, September 29 | 6:00pm-8:00pm | $20/per person

Through live music, this Hatha yoga class is designed to stretch, relax, inspire, and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. This class will feature demonstrations of various levels, making all movements appropriate for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. This “adult only” event will be instructed by the yoga staff at Liberty and will conclude with complimentary wine, cheese and fruit.

Registration Required | Space is Limited | 24 hr. Cancellation Fee $20

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Rhythm Ride Ages 15-up
Saturday, September 30 | 8:30am-9:20am | $20/person

This event will be a free form style of class, where the rhythm of the music will drive the ride. The speed and tempo of the music will take you on a journey through hills and flats and allow your body to move naturally with the music. This ride will be led by Liberty instructors Kathy Ernsburger and Andrea Kahn, and will conclude with light refreshments.

Registration Required | Space is Limited | 24 hr. Cancellation Fee $20

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Interval Ride Ages 15-up
Saturday, September 30 | 9:30am-10:20am | $20/person

This fifty-minute ride will consist of climbs and sprints, peaks and valleys, and tabata style challenges to appeal to all fitness levels. This class will be led by Liberty instructors Shelley Bruder and Nancy Drenning, and will conclude with light refreshments.

Registration Required | Space is Limited | 24 hr. Cancellation Fee $20

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Karen’s Ride Ages 15-up
Saturday, September 30 | 10:30am-11:30am | $20/person

In Karen’s honor, this ride will resemble her style of training: a longer warm-up, power based hills, flat road sprints, rolling hills, and a five-minute cool down. Karen’s friend, training partner, and fellow triathlete, Barb Figurski, will teach this class. It will conclude with light refreshments.

Registration Required | Space is Limited | 24 hr. Cancellation Fee $20

Special thanks to Liberty Athletic Club, Kathy Ernsberger and Kim Stetson

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